WASHINGTON — Aircraft manufacturer Airbus is considering ways to add multiple antennas to planes in order to let different satellite inflight connectivity providers serve the same aircraft simultaneously.
Mark Rich, vice president of Airbus’ connected fleet division, told SpaceNews June 9 at the Global Connected Aircraft Summit that one of the company’s big concerns with inflight connectivity is the reliability of the service, and one way Airbus might boost reliability on future aircraft is by enabling several antenna systems at once.
“From a reliability perspective, it may actually make sense to have multiple antennas on an aircraft so we can have multiple simultaneous connections with multiple different satellites with different services, and move the management of connectivity into the aircraft,” he said.
Airbus works with providers of inflight connectivity to bolt antenna systems onto planes, a process that can take an aircraft out of service for several days, costing airlines revenue. Suppliers of those systems — such as Gogo, Global Eagle, Panasonic, ViaSat and others — are striving to reduce the amount of time needed to complete those installations.
Rich said Airbus is interested in changing aircraft architectures to “have more of a common data signal processing capability that can connect to any satellite system.”
“Airline choice is a fundamental change in the architecture, so we are looking at how can we encourage or implement that,” he said.
Rich said Airbus is well aware that sporting multiple antennas and protective radomes on a single aircraft would add considerable weight and drag, requiring more fuel and making flight operations more expensive.
“That’s where we need new antenna technology,” he said, highlighting Kymeta, Phasor and Satixfy, three rising flat-panel antenna companies with lighter antennas that can conform more smoothly to an aircraft’s surface.
Rich acknowledged that there are still lots of challenges to having aircraft with more than one antenna system. His job, he said, is to look out five to 10 years forward at where connectivity will be, and try to make that vision a reality for Airbus.
“If you take a narrowbody aircraft, the impact of adding today’s satellite antenna system to that is like adding a free-loading passenger on every single flight of that aircraft, because of just the weight and the drag,” he said. “You are carrying around an additional passenger and paying for the fuel every time. We have to get past that, we have to reduce these things down to much less weight, drag and dollar impact, and then we can afford to put on more than one antenna to deal with this redundancy of systems.”